The Viking Circuit is a 40km hike through Victoria’s High Country that spans four days and plenty of errr, incredibly inviting mountains – the Crosscut Saw, Mount Buggery, Mount Despair, Mount Speculation, Horrible Gap, the Viking – what’s not to like?
- Exposed Victorian alpine ridgelines and expansive views across the valley
- Watching sunrise atop Mt Speculation
- Swimming in Wonnangatta River
- ‘Loo with a View’ at Valejo Gantner Hut
- Self-sufficient navigation and rock scrambles
Day 1 – Howitt Plains Car Park to Mt Speculation
Duration: 6 hours
The morning we started the Viking Circuit, we all woke a little stiff after the three of us squished head to toe on an extra-large bouldering pad in the back of the van. We’d arrived at the Howitt Plains car park just before midnight after a seven hour slog out of Melbourne (with a burger stop on the way).
We fed ourselves breakfast and coffee, blessed the sign-in book with our names and began our journey. The plains opened up around us with a single track keeping us in line until we reached a forest. We turned a corner only to come upon an architectural spectacle of an A-frame cabin – the Valejo Gantner Hut.
Inspired after an inquisitive break, we continued to an exposed ridgeline with high alpine sun, which eagerly awaited our presence. The peaks of the mountains yet to be conquered spilled around us with a knowing eye.
We walked for hours (and kilometres) fuelled by the energy of the first day, only stopping for lunch. At last, continuous ascents and descents made for sore feet and fatigued bodies, but gleeful spirits as we reached Mt Speculation and set up our humble shelters.
Some kilometres down the mountain, a creek was happily gurgling through ferns and over pebbles and dappled sunlight shone through the branches; our bottles were filled and our feet thanked us for the restorative soak. Tired but satisfied, we indulged in a chorizo and cous-cous dinner and hit our sleeping bags.
Day 2 – Mt Speculation to the Foot of the Viking
Duration: 6 hours
We clutched our steaming cups of coffee expectantly as the sun poked its head out over the valley. Empowered by its energy and the moment of stillness, we swiftly packed up and set our bodies in motion.
Shortly into walking, the track dissipated into the alpine shrub only to appear sporadically for the rest of the hike. The trail demanded respect and skilful navigation, and humbled its users repeatedly by obscuring the faint path with head-high shrub. The descents became deeper and ascents steeper as we traversed the mountain tops and valleys alike.
After a mandatory stop for lunch, the scenery around us changed. A sloped, slick, mossy rock-face sneered at us as we traversed it with cautious steps. The trail turned into an obstacle track in the final kilometres; we jumped, ducked, and climbed over and under the fallen logs as we challenged ourselves to keep the momentum going. And just like that, with speed, the trail spat us out to a clearing where the campsite was nestled at the foot of the Viking.
To our surprise, the ‘water hole’ was a mere dimple in the rock at the bottom of a mossy rock face, which was refilling at a speed of drops. Thanking our water filter, we filled up only as much as we could afford to go with the next day. That evening, we munched on some tuna and rice and dozed off to nearby campfire chatter.
Day 3 – The Viking to Wonnangatta River Camp
Duration: 6-8 hours
By day three, our pack-up was efficient. The spicy ascent to the Viking was a cathartic shock to the sore but rested muscles. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves staring at grey boulders with no visible trail in sight; until one of us spotted a rope.
Excited, we scrambled and squeezed through rocky openings all the while being constantly reminded of our 70-litre packs, which doubled our body size. As the morning matured, we conquered the pinnacle of the mountain and with victorious spirits gazed over the alpine valley.
Joyfully, we pushed on. The coy Wonnangatta River valley lured hikers to come off the forested ridge prematurely. If seduced, one would find themselves fighting the near-impassable, blackberry thicket for the rest of the journey. Eventually our eyes became accustomed to picking up the faintest signs of hiking track on the leaf-carpeted floor and we sped down the ridge through the trees.
The camp was a fern-guarded clearing on the river bank where the streaming water glistened in the sun. We indulged in a revitalising swim and dried off on the white, round, sun-baked river rocks.
In the evening, we feasted on a makeshift, dehydrated Easter dinner while we huddled around a central campfire with the other groups.
Day 4 – Wonnangatta River Camp to Howitt Plains Car Park
Duration: 8 hours
An especially early start was inspired by the pressure of driving back to the city on the last day. We crossed the river at the crack of dawn and ironically got ourselves lost in the thicket immediately after. Once found, the trail up the ridgeline was a sharp but clear ascent.
Soon after, we were led onto a wide, dirt maintenance road. Although dusty and relentlessly steep, we welcomed the lack of obstructions and were lulled into a false sense of safety with the accelerated walking pace. Unbeknownst to us, we’d be humbled again once we stepped back into the bush for the last leg of the Viking Circuit.
Whether it was the alpine sun beaming its hot rays onto the backs of our necks, the incessant head-high shrub on a steep incline requiring physical strength to push through, or the now-empty food packs, water bladders, and bellies, the trail confronted us physically and mentally.
We were stripped clean of human pride, and by this point fuelled purely by visions of a parma and beer dinner. Hours passed by. At last, with mechanic, quiet persistence we finally walked out into a clearing. The familiar scenery of the plains opened up before us as we found the single-track trail, which loyally led us back to the car park.
- 70L backpack
- Water bladder and bottles – recommended 3-4L each
- Water filter and cleansing tablets
- Lightweight hiking tent
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag
- Ankle support hiking boots
- Portable cooking equipment, stove, and gas
- Head torch
- Snacks and lightweight meals
- Rain jacket
- Map and a downloaded gpx route map on a phone (highly recommended)
How To Get There
The Viking Circuit is only accessible by car.
It’s best to leave the day before you want to start the hike, and sleep at the Howitt Plains car park. If you’re arriving from Melbourne, the fastest route option is from the south through Licola. Expect windy, steep roads.
Please note! The last two hours of the drive are unsealed with pot-holes.
Hot tip! If you get to the car park with ample daylight to spare, it might be worth starting the walk and camping the night at the Valejo Gantner Hut at the MacAlister Springs. The Viking Circuit may also be hiked in reverse.
Distance Covered / Duration / Elevation Gained
40.7km / 4 days / 2700m